Its COP time again. The United Nations Frame- work Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will hold its 24th annual Conference of the Parties (COP24) from December 2 to 14. At the ‘breakthrough’ Paris Agreement of 2015, 175 Parties, including the US, China and the EU, agreed to specific greenhouse gas-emissions mitigation, adaptation and finance measures for implementation from 2020 onwards. COP24 in Katowice, Poland, is mooted to be ‘Paris 2.0’ where rules and guidelines will be established to ensure countries deliver on these commitments.
After 24 conferences the mitigation specifics are yet to be established!
On Black Friday, the US’s frenetic shopping holiday and one of the best days of the year to ’bury’ bad news, the US Congress chose to release its Fourth Annual Climate Change Assessment. A quote from the Summary Findings on the impacts on the US economy reads “Without substantial and sustained global mitigation and regional adaptation efforts, climate change is expected to cause growing losses to American infrastructure and property and impede the rate of economic growth over this century.”
By 2100, according to the report, given warming on the current trajectory, the cost to the US economy in crop damage, lost labour and extreme weather dam- ages could exceed US$500-billion per year; almost double the economic blow of the economic crisis in the late 2000s.
Donald Trump and the White House have dismissed these predictions, suggesting that they are based only on “most-extreme scenarios” and ignore the potential effects of technology. In fact, the assessment above is the ‘do-little’ scenario, which is exactly what Trump‘s Whitehouse is advocating.
A report released in May 2018 by Stanford University scientists calculated that climate change, based on the world’s nations adhering to the Paris Climate Accord but still failing to limit the temperature rise to between 1.5 and 2.0 °C, would reduce global GDP by up to 15%. Based on the 2018 global GDP projection of $87.51-trillion, this puts the annual loss, assuming zero growth for nearly 80 years, at US$13.1-trillion.
Alarming indeed: and adhering to the Paris agreement is looking like a best-case scenario based on the White House’s current stance and political indifference elsewhere in the world.
The UN’s ‘Emissions Gap Report. 2018’, points out that CO2 emissions are rising again, for first time in four years and that ‘global efforts to tackle climate change are way off track’.
The report points to economic growth as responsible for a rise in 2017, but perhaps the converse, economic constraint, has been flattering emissions mitigation in the past few years. The Emissions Gap report’s analysis predicts that global emissions are not likely to peak until 2030, ten years later than the Paris Accord’s 2020 goal.
“There is still a tremendous gap between words and deeds, between the targets agreed by governments worldwide to stabilise our climate and the measures to achieve these goals,” said Gunnar Luderer from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and one of the authors of the study.
Emission mitigation must be increased five-fold to meet the 1.5 °C goal and, right now, the world is heading for a temperature rise of 3.2 °C by the end of this century.
The study fingers countries such as Argentina, Australia, Canada, the EU, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and the US as falling short of achieving their nationally determined contributions for 2030, while on the positive side, the UN is placing great hopes on ‘non-state actors’: local, city and regional governments, businesses and higher education institutions.
More than 7 000 cities from 133 countries and 6 000 companies with at least $36-trillion in revenue have pledged to take climate action. The authors, however, believe this is just scratching the surface of the 500 000 publicly traded companies worldwide.
It is clear that we are not doing nearly enough to reduce emissions to mitigate against the very real consequences of climate change. Governments the world over are preoccupied with their political survival and that of their fragile economic recoveries and, as Trump proves, even when nations finally commit to action, progress is too easily overturned on regime change.
A friend of mine has recently installed a R130 000 PV system at his home. He is rightly proud. My green commitment is limited to shuffling paper, glass and tin into differently coloured bags.
We have to take urgent action if we want to avoid the decline of our planet into an increasingly inhospitable place. That means we should all be prioritising lowering our carbon emissions, via our lifestyle choices and our investments in cleaner technologies.
We can no longer wait for government officials to make the right choices. Private industry, businesses, hospitals, factories, farms, schools, universities, churches and homeowners all need to re-align their practices and technology choices towards lower emissions.
Green spending now could still influence history, while doing nothing is likely to bring shame on our entire generation.